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Do you struggle in intimate relationships? Do you have a deep longing to connect with a partner, but also fear getting too close? Perhaps you don’t feel like you’re ever good enough, always trying to please those around you and second-guessing yourself. Or maybe you always expect the worst to happen and engage in a lot of negative self-talk. Do you find yourself either controlling of others or easily controlled? Do you get angry often or feel deeply afraid of conflict? Do you wish you could feel healthy, whole and able to develop and foster deep, loving and connected relationships?
Struggling with attachment issues can be a confusing, stressful and lonely experience. You may have struggled with intimate and interpersonal relationships for years, unsure of why it has been so difficult for you to connect meaningfully with another and sustain a healthy relationship. You may experience a connection at first, but either withdraw, become anxious, avoidant or codependent when the relationship becomes increasingly intimate. Having a child can trigger attachment issues to arise, especially if you experienced trauma or neglect through a parent while growing up. Adopted children are also likely to struggle to form healthy, secure attachments in adulthood if attachment issues were left unresolved.
If you’re struggling with intimate relationships, you are not alone. Many, if not most of us, did not develop secure attachments with our primary caregiver, and it is through that relationship that most of us learn how to navigate relationships and the world. Feelings of unsafety in childhood often play out in various forms in adult relationships, especially intimate ones. There are four primary attachment styles.
Secure attachment: These relationships are relaxed. There is an easy, affectionate, comfortable and open flow. People with a secure attachment style believe that people are essentially good at heart. Healthy, secure attachments are characterized by respect, healthy boundaries, open communication and engaged, active listening.
Avoidant attachment: People with an avoidant attachment style tend to minimize the importance of relationships. They often prefer casual over committed relationships, sexually or otherwise. They tend to think things through rather than express them emotionally, and are almost relieved when a relationship ends. They believe that it’s easier to be alone and may prefer relationships with animals over people.
Anxious/ambivalent attachment: In this style of attachment, people tend to yearn, but are rarely satisfied. They over-focus on others and lose themselves in relationships. They also tend to give more than they get, which can lead to grudges and resentment. People with anxious styles find it hard to receive love and may have an underlying fear of intimacy.
Disorganized attachment: People with disorganized attachment styles likely experienced more severe forms of trauma in childhood. They tend to expect the worst and disconnect when confused. Their self-protective resources are not online. They are often easily triggered, find it hard to read others and even recreate trauma in their relationships. This attachment style is characterized by fear.
All non-secure attachment styles can be transformed. Even if you experienced trauma in childhood or were adopted, it is possible to heal and create secure attachments in your adult life. You can do this with a partner, therapist, good friend or even your own child. And, while you may never heal the relationship you had/have with your primary caregiver, you can develop compassion, let go of the past and build healthy relationships moving forward.